Most healthcare executives today operate amidst a constant ticker tape of emails and texts, often punctuated by voicemail queries, requests and interruptions. It’s easy to see why so many leaders, and thus most healthcare companies, struggle with an onslaught of multiple priorities and the need to constantly recalibrate to keep the end in mind and to glean the important from the merely urgent.
So often, the urgent feels important, but usually it is not. Yet, here’s the key: important things are rarely urgent. Then, every so often, something comes up that is very urgent and very important. That’s what happens when your organization is facing an event defined as a crisis.
The requisite “Crisis Communication Plan” for healthcare organizations is too often ignored
Now, should it happen that your company has not created the vitally important (but often low priority) crisis communication plan to guide healthcare executives and line staff during a time of duress, the organization itself is at risk. Whether the crisis event occurs from within, as in cases of either direct or unintentional malfeasance, scandal or accident or from being swept up in a maelstrom caused by association with others’ wrongdoing, the spotlight is trained squarely on you. Natural disasters or accidents, all will likely be reported and discussed in the healthcare and social media spheres describing your crisis communication management plan, your response to the crisis, or the lack thereof.
What’s at stake? More than you may think. A company’s reputation, which may take decades to build, can be threatened by a single event. Brand and reputation are assets that are integrally tied to corporate value, exponentially more than bricks and mortar. Shareholder confidence, financial well-being, regulatory standing, perhaps even survival of the company itself, are all on the line. In fact, many experts believe that lack of crisis communication planning poses an even greater exposure than lack of liability insurance.
A healthcare organization’s crisis communication is a public display
One characteristic of a crisis is intense scrutiny from the outside. While potential damage to reputation can result from actual management of the crisis (which is both urgent and important), leaders must manage events and communication simultaneously. Here’s the rub: when under intense pressure or stress, most people experience “brain seize” and find it difficult to think clearly or to act rationally. Do you know how your executives would respond?
Not unlike “the golden hour” of trauma care, the immediate steps taken will likely set the tone for the course of the crisis and have a huge impact on the outcome. First, there’s managing the crisis itself, responding to the event or situation, requiring adept management and laser-quick decision-making and action.
Concurrently, there is a need to immediately respond to requests for information from outside the organization, to communicate facts, actions, background on the company as well as its policies and procedures, action strategies and plans for resolution.
Effective crisis management begins before there’s a crisis
A well-conceived crisis communication plan will guide responders confidently through immediate and near-term steps and outline actions for recovery. It compiles information and databases into one guide, with reference materials, step-by-step plans for gathering and disseminating information, policies and procedures for preparing messaging, disseminating information and communicating to internal and external publics quickly and effectively across traditional and new social media channels.
While the intent is not to anticipate every possible negative event, it is to provide a blueprint for communicating under pressure by providing contact information, messaging, resources and policies delineating a process to help executives respond quickly, effectively and appropriately to safeguard the company’s reputation and corporate value.
Leaders who perform well under pressure can effectively guide the company through a crisis, immediately address both the damage to and implications for the company’s present and future conditions, as well as define opportunities for improvement in the longer term.
A comprehensive crisis communication plan and process is a very important priority for successful organizations. Yet, it’s really not that urgent.
Until it is.